Blenheim biochar gets global attention

carbonscape.jpgCarbonscape, the New Zealand company working on making charcoal from a microwaving process discussed here and here on Hot Topic, has just announced that they are one of only five companies to make the shortlist in a global competition, the Financial Times’ Climate Change Challenge.

The competition seeks the most innovative solution to the effects of climate change. The winner, to be chosen by Financial Times readers and a panel of judges will receive a US$75,000 prize, sponsored by Hewlett Packard, to help bring their service to market. I notice Richard Branson, IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri and Jonathon Porritt among the eight judges.

Understandably Carbonscape are excited to have made it to the shortlist from the 300 entries. Director Vicki Buck rather hopes that there’ll be votes from New Zealand readers to help give them a chance of winning the contest. (See the link above if you want to vote).

The biochar concept of sequestering carbon by turning it to charcoal and burying it in the ground where it remains stable for centuries, apparently benefitting the soil greatly at the same time, is gaining increasing attention. Arguments are being advanced for recognising it in the post-Kyoto agreement as a carbon sink. Carbonscape’s microwaving process to make the charcoal is a world first. One of the directors, climate scientist Chris Turney, is extending the company’s operation into the UK according to a recent Guardian article.

The step from concept and trial to production on a large scale must be a major one for new technologies. I imagine US$75,000 wouldn’t go very far in aiding the process, but the prize might attract interest from deeper pockets. Carbonscape haven’t won it yet, but even the publicity of being on the short list in a publication like the Financial Times must open up possibilities. Congratulations to them – it’s great to see some New Zealanders at the forefront in addressing climate change at a time when our government seems intent on falling back to the rear.

12 thoughts on “Blenheim biochar gets global attention”

  1. Biochar Soil Technology…..Husbandry of whole new orders of life

    Biotic Carbon, the carbon transformed by life, should never be combusted, oxidized and destroyed. It deserves more respect, reverence even, and understanding to use it back to the soil where 2/3 of excess atmospheric carbon originally came from.

    We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth.

    It’s hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel.

    Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,

    Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

    Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth, TP), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY!
    Modern Pyrolysis of biomass is a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration,10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
    Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration, Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

    Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw, “Feed the Soil Not the Plants” becomes “Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !”. Free Carbon Condominiums, build it and they will come.
    As one microbologist said on the TP list; “Microbes like to sit down when they eat”. By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders of life.

    Senator / Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has done the most to nurse this biofuels system in his Biochar provisions in the 07 & 08 farm bill,

    Charles Mann (“1491”) in the Sept. National Geographic has a wonderful soils article which places Terra Preta / Biochar soils center stage.

    Biochar data base;

    NASA’s Dr. James Hansen Global warming solutions paper and letter to the G-8 conference, placing Biochar / Land management the central technology for carbon negative energy systems.

    The many new university programs & field studies, in temperate soils; Cornell, ISU, U of H, U of GA, Virginia Tech, JMU, New Zealand and Australia.

    Glomalin’s role in soil tilth, fertility & basis for the soil food web in Terra Preta soils.

    UNCCD Submission to Climate Change/UNFCCC AWG-LCA 5
    “Account carbon contained in soils and the importance of biochar (charcoal) in replenishing soil carbon pools, restoring soil fertility and enhancing the sequestration of CO2.”

    This new Congressional Research Service report (by analyst Kelsi Bracmort) is the best short summary I have seen so far – both technical and policy oriented. .

    Given the current “Crisis” atmosphere concerning energy, soil sustainability, food vs. Biofuels, and Climate Change what other subject addresses them all?

    This is a Nano technology for the soil that represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.

    Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.


    Erich J. Knight

    Shenandoah Gardens
    540 289 9750

    Biochar Studies at ACS Huston meeting;

    Most all this work corroborates char soil dynamics we have seen so far . The soil GHG emissions work showing increased CO2 , also speculates that this CO2 has to get through the hungry plants above before becoming a GHG.
    The SOM, MYC& Microbes, N2O (soil structure), CH4 , nutrient holding , Nitrogen shock, humic compound conditioning, absorbing of herbicides all pretty much what we expected to hear.



    665 – III.


    Company News & EU Certification

    Below is an important hurtle that 3R AGROCARBON has overcome in certification in the EU. Given that their standards are set much higher than even organic certification in the US, this work should smooth any bureaucratic hurtles we may face.

    EU Permit Authority – 4 years tests
    Subject: Fwd: [biochar] Re: GOOD NEWS: EU Permit Authority – 4 years tests successfully completed

    Doses: 400 kg / ha – 1000 kg / ha at different horticultural cultivars

    Plant height Increase 141 % versus control
    Picking yield Increase 630 % versus control
    Picking fruit Increase 650 % versus control
    Total yield Increase 202 % versus control
    Total piece of fruit Increase 171 % versus control
    Fruit weight Increase 118 % versus control


    EcoTechnologies is planning for many collaborations ; NC State, U. of Leeds, Cardiff U. Rice U. ,JMU, U.of H. and at USDA with Dr.Jeffrey Novak who is coordinating ARS Biochar research. This Coordinated effort will speed implementation by avoiding unneeded repetition and building established work in a wide variety of soils and climates.

    Hopefully all the Biochar companies will coordinate with Dr. Jeff Novak’s soils work at ARS;

    I spoke with Jon Nilsson of the CarbonChar Group, in their third year of field trials ;
    An idea whose time has come | Carbon Char Group
    He said the 2008 trials at Virginia Tech showed a 46% increase in yield of tomato transplants grown with just 2 – 5 cups (2 – 5%) “Biochar+” per cubic foot of growing medium.

  2. Monbiot has certainly gone over the top. Most of what I have read hasn’t proposed it as a universal solution, or an easy way out, but as one among many measures. If scientists like Hansen are right and we have to actually reduce even the present level of CO2 in the atmosphere the possibility of biochar being one way of doing it obviously worth consideration, as are the claims of Lackner and others that we may be able to scrub it from the atmosphere and sequester it in a variety of ways, mineral sequestration being his best hope. So far as benefits to the soil are concerned I think there is recognition that some soils may benefit more than others, and some may not benefit at all. My impression is that there is some quite careful scientific monitoring work being done on that – I saw a video clip of a scientist working on a patch in Australia, but can’t remember where now. And Carbonscape in NZ reported links with Lincoln University for research into biochar effects on NZ soils. There may well be hazards as well as virtues, but the virtues deserve a bit of time to demonstrate how significant they may prove to be.

  3. George Monbiot has a go at Peter Read along with Carbonscape. I saw Peter Read give a talk at Canterbury University a couple of years ago. It was the first time I heard about bio-char.

    He seemed fairly pragmatic to me….his goal was getting carbon out of the atmosphere (ie curtailing emissions wasn’t likely to achieve enough in his view). His first tool in the kit was planting forests anywhere and everywhere (think Mackenzie country) at least where albedo wasn’t adversely affected. Second was bio-char.

    Not a miracle cure, but a good idea that could be put into action fairly easily.

    He also had an interesting analogy that has given me food for thought. If you are in a sinking ship (the earth’s climate) and have to bail, would you prefer a perfectly formed silver teaspoon (kyoto protocol) and measure every drop as you bail…..or would you choose a leaky plastic bucket (forests – biochar and whatever else we can think of) and not care too much if a bit of water falls back in the ship each time.

  4. I would have thought so too.

    I would have thought there are at least a few million hectares where Peter Read could get started without offending Monbiot’s sensibilities too much and basically just give it a whirl.

    If it delivers as promised and nothing else turns up with the same capability then I would have thought wide deployment was quite appropriate and to hell with the social consequences.

    If it is good enough for the Amazon rain forest it can’t be too bad for the rest of us either.

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